I recently had a conversation with fellow theologians, and we came across the topic of magic. It’s certainly one thing to argue for or against arcane elements in works of fiction, but I heard some propose that magic exists in the real world. This sentiment, as lunatic as it may sound to the uninitiated Protestant and especially to the outside skeptic, has some background in Christian history. The Catholic and especially the Orthodox faiths are steeped in elements of mysticism. The Bible itself (Deuteronomy 18:11) forbids the casting of spells. So Christianity recognizes but does not endorse the concept of magic; case closed, correct? I would like to present a different perspective, one that reaches a conclusion without magic.
Before I continue, if you have one, I would like you to go to your Bible. Open to the first verse, then flip to the end of Chapter 2. Hold those pages out. That, in its entirety, is the Ibrahimic equivalent of the creation myth. The contents of those sparing few pages are what ruffle the feathers of the atheist world. Debate over these few pages have spilled literal tons of ink. If you asked an ancient Greek how the world came to be, they’d explain an intricate web of marriage, children, and wars before landing on a vague start for humanity. Ask the pre-Columbian Cherokee, and they’d spin a tale of water beetles and the wing flapping of buzzards. Ask the Mbombo of central Africa and they’d say it was all vomited out. Ask a Christian. They would say that God spoke, and it was so. Phrased differently: “How was it made? I don’t know. I don’t care. God made it. Ask Him.”
There are no simpler creation stories than that of Judeo-Christianity, which is also the one that is most flexible to interpretation. When we found evidence of prior history of the earth, and prior history of the universe, all but the simplest creation myths were immediately, completely, and irrefutably disproven. You could have a creation story with absolutely no mysticism outside of the creator, and Judeo-Christianity would still remain standing.
Now, if you’ve dropped it, pick up the Bible from the beginning of Genesis 1 to the beginning of Genesis 12. Compare that to the rest of the Bible. That, in its entirety, is the Judeo-Christian equivalent of mythology. The rest of the Bible is infused with God and His miracles, but it’s largely historical and poetic. The histories are believable tales of men and nations, the legacy of which can be visited today. Trips and teachings, trials and truths. Compare that small bit of Genesis to the massive compendiums of the Greco-Roman faiths, or the Egyptian faiths, or the Epic of Gilgamesh. Staggeringly different. Judeo-Christianity, relative to these pagan faiths, seems to be devoid of mysticism. It doesn’t ask us to take massive leaps in logic, only steps of well-grounded faith.
Relative to the false pagan deities, God doesn’t seem to rely much on breaking physics or inventing new physics to maintain His people. He doesn’t need to; He made the laws of physics themselves, and He’s both omnipotent and omniscient. God made this world good by His own appraisal, and He uses it for any purpose He pleases. David passed through two civil wars without visible miracles. The gospel highlights Jesus’s stories and Jesus’s life more than Jesus’s supernatural works. God can do anything, but He doesn’t need to. In this context, God forbade magic not because it works but because it doesn’t. Just as idols made of clay are powerless and a mockery of real power, so is magic (and, mentioned before the verse, firewalking and fortunetelling) a hilariously pointless endeavor. This is an age where people don’t recognize unexplainable miracles. Fortune-tellers occupy decaying buildings in run-down ghettos. Firewalking is relegated to the Pacific Islands, and magic is relegated to Vegas. Meanwhile, Christianity is the strongest and most popular international organization in the history of mankind, thanks be to God, in part because it is the least dependent on magic and the supernatural outside God. It could have strongarmed the other religions, but instead it merely outlasted them.
This non-mystic aspect of Christianity is left unused, to the point of my personal frustration. The internet is flooded with millions of atheists whose front and only critique of Christianity is its superstitious refusal to accept scientific beliefs. It is absolutely possible to reach God without science, but it is equally possible to find God alongside all the evidence accepted by the scientific community. By finding Jesus in a piece of toast, by advertising (often fabricated) stories of children in Heaven for a split-second, we disgust and distance ourselves from this potential army of millions of converts. I see sparingly few Christians in skeptic communities, and their absence abandons these millions to eternal damnation. I even see these people boldly proclaiming the benefit of Christian morals and values but stopping just short of accepting the religion. Christianity in all its tenets and glory is still perfectly adaptable to these people, if only we had the knowledge to pursue these avenues.
Surprisingly, I do find comfort in the unexplainable. I know that there is value to going up to the mountaintop and listening for God, and I truly believe the monks and mystics who say they found enlightenment there. Recitals and prayer have a welcome, useful place in the faith. But I do not believe in magic. I believe in God’s physics and God’s sciences, which He has blessed to show us His glory, and, above all else, God Himself.